LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Six California Catholic dioceses announced Monday a new compensation program that they said aims to support alleged child abuse victims of Roman Catholic priests — allowing victims to file for compensation without having to sue the church.
Victims of abuse within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the Dioceses of Fresno, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino and San Diego have until Jan. 31 of next year to file a claim that will be assessed by a group of independent administrators who have previously handled victim compensation funds including one for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The six participating dioceses comprise more than 10 million Catholics, about 80% of the state’s Catholic population.
The fund is open for claims from people who allege they were abused by priests in any of these six dioceses as a minor. There is no time limit on when the alleged abuse occurred — even if the statute of limitations has already passed for criminal prosecution. Alleged victims do not need to proof of citizenship to file.
For victims who choose to come forward, the cases will be confidentially reported to police. As for compensation, the administrators of the fund have sole discretion over the amounts with no cap, and the church said it would comply with their recommendations.
The compensation program is being paid for by the church, but is being operated by administrators Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who run similar programs for dioceses in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Colorado.
The program will be overseen by an Independent Oversight Committee consisting of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former California Governor Gray Davis, and business leader and former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet.
“We can never erase the pain that you have endured, but we can assist you in the ongoing process of healing and recovery,” Panetta said during a news conference unveiling the program. “Our fervent prayer is that this process in the end can provide some semblance of justice for the victims of crimes that for too long went unpunished.”
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests was critical of the program when it was initially announced back in May, and today issued a release that stated in part that punishment and compensation should be “meted out by courts, not the institutions that allowed the wrongdoing to happen.”
“We hope that survivors in California will take steps to learn about their legal rights and the potential pitfalls of compensation programs before signing on,” SNAP said in a statement. “Regardless of what steps they take towards compensation, we hope that all victims will first make a report to police, district attorneys, and the California Attorney General’s office.”
In a release announcing the program, the dioceses said they would be contacting victims who previously reported allegations of abuse to make them aware of the new program.